Though the soldiers carry literal diseases, Vietnam also acts as their disease. It seeps into their bones and grows on their body like the festering sore. This “disease” was most evocative of war because war, it is not merely carrying the sickness of differences or misunderstanding between countries they carry, but the infectious fear of the individual involved that touches humans on either side of battle. It was inevitable or impossible to forget all the killing and destruction they have made. Among all the things they carried, “They all carried ghosts”(O’Brien 522). By ghosts, 4
the author means unseen forces, such as memories, particularly ones that connect back to the soldier's lives in America, as well as the things they have done in Vietnam. Since ghosts are typically associated with haunting people, this implies that the soldiers are silently influenced and distinguished by these ghosts, and are at least partially responsible for the different choices. The same responsibility the soldiers made in terms of their behavior and the things they choose to carry, just like Lieutenant Cross felt when Lavender was killed as O’Brien writes, “He felt shame. He hated him self. He had loved Martha more than his men, and as a consequence Lavender was now dead, and this was something he would have to carry like a stone in his stomach for the rest of the war”(525). Dr. Mel Singer re-affirms these feelings of guiltiness and shame by conducting a study with a subgroup of Vietnam veterans suffering from combat-related Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, who committed atrocities such as raping, torturing, body mutilations, and the killing of innocents by stating “A history of having committed atrocities often adds certain distinct features to an already complicated trauma history. Many of these men still suffer from painful emotions related to the atrocities. Some have committed suicide and others remain at risk. Markedly self-destructive lives are commonplace”(377). When the author refers to "the silent awe for the terrible power of the things they carried"(521) it can be interpreted as if the author would want us to feel for Lieutenant Jimmy Cross that apart from carrying all the needed equipment he also carried the life of his men in his hands. Here we can also see how the author uses an allusion to refer to the life of the men in Lieutenant Cross's troop to "the terrible power of the thing they carried.”(521) In this way the author connects both the emotional baggage and the physical baggage that the soldiers had to carry, and it makes us understand how sometimes the 5
emotional baggage was unbearable rather than the physical baggage, which was manageable. Those acts became the unexplainable questions, the perpetual fear of oneself as the soldier’s guilt carries on with him through the rest of his life. Inside all of us, soldier or not we carry an animal; we carry a beast of different forms that can pounce when necessary.
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